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Celebration time for India, SA

india Updated: Dec 25, 2006 12:35 IST
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Across the road, the sea is a stormy grey, but some early surfers are enjoying their Sunday in the sea.

The sky, meanwhile, is a worrying blue-grey haze, not exactly reflecting the season of gaiety. After two blazingly hot days, the threat of rain looms over the Boxing Day Test but everyone here is hoping it rains over Christmas and that would be it for a while.

On Sunday, though, both the Indians and South Africans have placed their issues and worries on the backburner, it’s Christmas Eve and the Elangeni hotel here is a riot of colour. From Saturday evening on, there’s a sense of excitement and festivity in the air.

A play-pen as been created in the lobby, where Makhaya Ntini’s charmingly riotous young son is playing godfather to all the other kids who enter. There’s a big Christmas tree across from there, and as you walk by, beware  — you might be accosted by a young man high on the spirit of the season (and whatever else), holding something he claims is mistletoe and asking for a kiss.

The Indian players, some of whom have their families with them, are looking refreshingly relaxed at breakfast.

They drift by in ones and twos, even as a large group of the Proteas, who have breakfasted together and seem more tense than their rivals, wave goodbye to the ‘magic man’ who has been showing them tricks, and to the rest of a packed breakfast room.

The South Africans, who have had far less practice than the Indians, are scheduled to have regular nets in the afternoon; for India, there is an optional practice session on Christmas morning.

But it’s been a gruelling couple of days in the sun and not everyone will go.

A few have planned a swim in the sea or some beach volleyball and in the evening, there’s an official function hosted by the Indian High Commission.

After that, Sreesanth and a couple of others (even though no one outside the coaching staff is actually Christian) are planning to attend Midnight Mass at one of the churches in town.

The South Africans, meanwhile, are having their annual Christmas Eve party at the hotel on Saturday night. They apparently have a quaint tradition, one that is supposed to encourage you to know your fellow man (or, in this case, cricketer) and bond. Each picks up a chit with someone’s name written on it and buys a Christmas present suited for whoever’s name is on it.

Many of them will go to mass later and as one of them said, “this year, we really gotta pray. It’s not often that we’re on the backfoot at home.”

True enough and India would know they have a huge advantage to play with while going into the second Test, which begins on Tuesday.

Monday, Christmas Day, will bring with it all the tensions that go with being match eve, so Sunday is being kept to celebrate the spirit of the season.

And pray for deliverance.

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